No Fear of God by Jerry Rankin
Yesterday was an emotional worship experience in the church I attended. Being July 4th, everyone had on red, white and blue and the service was appropriately focused on the Christian heritage of our nation. I have always considered myself patriotic, but appreciation for America is enhanced when one lives overseas for 23 years.
I always felt at home on the mission field and, in fact, identified with and enjoyed the unique cultural settings where we lived. The cleanliness, orderliness and prosperity of life in America were things we missed but readily adjusted to doing without. However, we were blindsided by unexpected emotions the first time we came home on stateside assignment.
I went to a ballgame and was surprised by a lump in my throat when the national anthem was sung after not hearing it for four years. Even yesterday, I got choked up saying the pledge of allegiance to the flag and singing, “America the Beautiful.” I wasn’t the only one in the congregation who had tears in their eyes as current and former servicemen and women were recognized as the choir sang the rousing chorus representing the various branches of military service.
It was good to be reminded of how blessed we are by the freedoms we enjoy and the price that has been paid to preserve those freedoms as we celebrate the birth of our country. But it is evident our nation is in trouble as it abandons the Christian heritage and values on which it was founded. We can attribute it to the declining witness and influence of Christians, the secularization of society, humanistic post-modern values, infringement of government into moral areas and a general malaise rather than a sense of personal responsibility. But it all boils down to having lost the fear of God.
Once an individual, a church, government officials and a nation no longer walk in fear of Almighty God, they are left to their own inclinations and fallible wisdom. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” All the sophisticated rationalization and wisdom of the world is misleading and a pretense. One does not have wisdom to deal with all the issues of life until one comes into a relationship of reverential awe and submission to God.
The fear of the Lord is the only real deterrent to moral failure. Proverbs 16:6 tells us, “By the fear of the Lord one departs from evil.” Laws and societal pressure can’t determine behavior. It is evident that the only deterrent to sin and self-centered living is to have a heart that is so desperate for God that we walk in obedient respect for His holiness and a desire to glorify Him; it is the fear of God that puts a hedge against sin around us. Abortions would cease and homosexual lifestyles would vanish if America were overwhelmed by the fear of God.
Most Christians would consider it strange that we are to fear the Lord. Our perception is that we shouldn’t be afraid of God. He is a loving Father who delights to show mercy. We have an image of a compassionate shepherd, gently leading and nurturing us, His sheep. We have experienced His grace and cherish a personal relationship with Him that is a source of blessing, peace and joy. What does it mean to fear the Lord?
It is difficult to make an appropriate analogy, but I think this is somewhat like the relationship I had with my parents. They loved me, cared for me and were devoted to providing for my needs, and I recognized their authority over me. There was a respect for them that motivated my obedience and desire to behave in a way that pleased them. I knew if I disobeyed them or did something wrong I would be punished, but my fear of them was not fear of punishment. After all, the pain of a spanking was short-lived; I loved them and respected them, and that was a strong deterrent to disobedience.
We are called to stand in awe of a holy and righteous God who has called us to holiness and obedience. Yes, He does assure us that there are consequences to our sin and disobedience, and one day we will stand before Him and give an account of what we have done in this life, but that is not why we should fear Him. To fear the Lord means to have an awe-filled, holy reverence for Him, recognizing His Lordship and that He has absolute authority over our life. The fear of the Lord is what brings us into willing submission to His will and elicits heart-felt praise and worship. It is recognizing that He alone is worthy of glory and honor. My study Bible describes the fear of the Lord as (1) a reverential awe, (2) obedient respect, and (3) a worshipful submission.
We have obviously lost the fear of God in our society and even in many of our churches. A lot of our conflicts would vanish if we allowed a fear of the Lord to subjugate our tendency of self-serving opinions and sense of entitlement to God’s expectation that we would die to self and devote ourselves to serving others. We would be more conscientious about a holy lifestyle and faithfully witnessing of God’s grace if we were overwhelmed by a fear of the Lord. And, I dare say, many more would be willing to offer their lives to fulfill our Great Commission task and go to the ends of the earth to share the gospel if we had a heart-convicting, life-controlling, vision-driven fear of God in which obedience to His will was not optional!